With only FC Barcelona left, we take a look at why so many football organisations have left RLEsports, with comments from two former coaches
Rocket League is often defined to a casual gamer as ‘football with cars’ and generally this is the fundamentals to the esport that we all love, although the details are so much more mechanical. It only made sense that in 2017 giant football organisation Paris Saint Germain headed into Rocket League, acquiring the Frontline roster of Ferra, Chausette45 and Bluey.
PSG, backed by Qatar Sports Investments, were the eleventh most valuable football club in the world, as on 2019 (According to Forbes). Their worth being a staggering $1.09billion. In comparison, the richest esports organisations at the same time were worth less than half of that, with Cloud9 and TSM being worth roughly $400m. It came as shocking news when just a month after securing a $50,000 prize for winning DreamHack Valencia 2019, Ferra, Chausette45 and Fruity were to reform Frontline and left scratching their heads. A billion-dollar organisation didn’t see a future within Rocket League.
Since, we have seen multiple football organisations come and go, just FC Barcelona capable of sustaining a recognisable roster in the current game. AS Monaco, RCD Espanyol, Getafe C.F. and Valencia CF, to name a few, have all departed from Rocket League, despite being affiliated to a major footballing organisation.
So why is it that football organisations cannot sustain themselves within Rocket League esports, despite our game being roughly based on the game that they make billions on?
In an interview with GGRecon in June, ex-RCD Espanyol and now Vodafone Giants star, Stake explained that representing a football organisation is quite different from expectations. “I thought we would have a lot of football fans, but it is not like that. It is completely different being in a football team and esports team, and football Orgs need to learn that it is different to run a football club and an esports club”.
RCD Espanyol disbanded just a matter of days before they were set to feature in the promotion playoffs in RLCS Season 9, and in a dubiously cryptic message on LinkedIn, their Digital Manager / CDO called for the players not to feature in the playoffs, despite it not being their choice to be dumped from the org. Laurea Folch claimed that ‘Under no circumstances should gamers that have represented the RCD Espanyol de Barcelona in the RLRS play the promotion playoffs for the RLCS tomorrow’. This highlighted an underlying issue, that their loyalty clearly didn’t lie with the players, which are fundamental to esports. This clearly bothered the players, who formed Stonkers and crashed out in third place.
Stake’s former RCD Espanyol manager and Spanish caster Marco ‘Isengard’ Montouto explained the story to us at GGRecon in a better light.
"The players had different ambitions and the club's policy was quite strict regarding last-minute changes. They did not want to renew unilaterally and preferred to dispense with all the support offered by the club, including the staff. It is a shame that such a beautiful project ended like this.
"These things happen in esports and I hope that Psyonix takes note so that in the future the spots of the competitions do not belong to the players and belong to the clubs since these are the ones that make the economic effort to have quality teams in the competitions".
There are two sides of this story - from a players' perspective, you have grinded all season, putting in countless hours to get a shot at promotion. In their opinion, the place stays with the players who have got this far so far, with the support of the club. Stake Tox and Zamue felt that they'd earned the place and despite not renewing with RCD Espanyol, they should be allowed to play. This ultimately, is how Psyonix decided it should work, fending off the protests from Espanyol.
From an organisational perspective, RCD Espanyol made all the financial beneficiaries to get them this far and could argue that without their support, the trio wouldn't have got to promotion playoff. Hence why they believed the spot should belong to them. However restrictive this may seem, it's something that many organisations have asked for, outlined by the letter signed by 13 teams to Psyonix.
In the current climate of the game, the spot was owned by the participants, and the bid to have them not compete doesn't seem empathetic with the players and community, possibly highlighting the difference in a sports organisation and an esports team. If you think literally, the starting XI for RCD Espanyol couldn't have left the club to form their own team in La Liga, which offers an insight into why the org has similar thoughts on the Rocket League team.
Despite the differences, Stonkers failed to be promoted and now has to qualify for the minors through the closed qualifiers.
Although the story behind RCD Espanyol ends sourly, their conception was something of brilliance and shows the influence that a footballing organisation can have on Rocket League's players.
"Thanks to Espanyol we were able to go to the club facilities and make a presentation as if we were soccer stars. Creating content around the team was incredible. In each event, we attended we had a photographer and a videographer who covered each of our steps.
"On social media, they promoted every game we played, drew statistics, and proposed fun challenges to players so that fans could get to know them more closely. That made the popularity of the players, at least in Spain grow considerably".
Whilst some of this seems to be normal for organisations within esports, their existing outreach is enormous. The social media influence of sporting organisations can attract a much larger audience to Rocket League, and their resources behind content design and scheduling can only benefit the scene by expanding its fanbase. Fans loyal to the brand and team will follow their other teams across any format, evident by the following Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain gathered.
Isengard also described how RCD Espanyol differentiated mainstream football and esports, a debate that is often discussed when looking at how alike organisations can sustain themselves within Rocket League. "Without a doubt, something that differentiated Espanyol from other football clubs is that his knowledge in the esports sector was quite extensive. The staff were people linked to the sector for many years and had a manager who knew how to perfectly lead the group".
Although they did well to differentiate esports from mainstream sports, the side benefited from the organisation methods or the org. Isengard explained: "Regarding the similarity with football, the truth is that the communication between the team and the club was similar to that of a traditional sports team. We had the figure of a sports director who attended to all our needs and a communication director who was attentive to everything necessary to make us known. Sports discipline was similar, with a rigorous training schedule and crimes".
Evidently, when done correctly, these humongous brands have the potential to be successful and sustainable within Rocket League esports. However, there are undeniable differences between player and organisations ownership which needs to be outlined within the industry, which is an indication as to why so many teams have departed the scene in the past. Understanding the scene's regulations and empathy towards players could be an area where these monster teams will need to adapt to sustain their success.
RCD Espanyol was on the rise, just like the PSG side that won DreamHack, just on a smaller scale. Whereas PSG was competing to be the best team in the world, RCD Espanyol was just starting, building from the bottom up, which makes their departure just as confusing. Just days before potentially securing RLCS status the players departed due to contract disagreements, which could have been due to the sports teams lack of success in football.
"Unfortunately, Espanyol's continuity in the Rocket League did not depend on the club. The players had different ambitions, which ultimately caused the contract not to be renewed. It is true that the results of the soccer club in the Spanish league made the permanence of the esports section complicated since it was very possible that the club descended to the second division and therefore the budget was less for the following season." explained Isengard.
The financial complications are intriguing. Whereas traditional esports organisations finances are solely dependent on prize winnings and sponsorships across multiple esports, it is clear that football organisations rely on funding from the sporting teams for their esports brands, rather than differentiating the two. RCD Espanyol, Getafe C.F., and even sides such as AS Monaco have all had their finances cut in recent years in football due to league positioning and failed transfers, which may indicate that the esports teams have been axed, or had to face unsustainable cutbacks to free up a budget for their larger project. From a business perspective, it makes total sense, however, it leaves open an avenue to damage esports if they're not treated in the same way, instead of being a dispensable side project.
Isengard explained that RCD Espanyol could return to Rocket League in the future, and his experience there was one of the best in his lifetime. It's a shame the side couldn't be sustained, and with hope, they'll return with a more sustainable ecosystem and begin to develop on the outreach that they had developed.
With the changes in structure for the RLCS X, and the Olympic Games set to be a huge platform next year, there are plenty of opportunities for huge organisations to come in and be successful in Rocket League Esports, and push the game we love to the next level. However, they will have to learn from the mistakes of others if they want to rival sides like FC Barcelona. David Beckham's Guild Esports will try and do just that with the esports expertise of executive chairman, Carleton Curtis, paving the way for even more huge organisations to come and get a slice of RLCS X's $4.5m prize pool. The ball is there to be taken.
Part 2 of this in-depth article will focus on the efforts of FC Barcelona, focusing on the comments of El General and the managing team.
Header Image via ZeeboDesigns (Ronaky, Left) and Javier Munante (Stake, Right).